Wild Culture Kombucha is expanding beyond growlers, guest taps and a booth at the Iowa City Farmers Market. The low-alcohol probiotic beverages will soon have a permanent home of their own at 210 N Linn St in Iowa City, formerly Sonny’s Northside Tap.
Roughly three years after starting their business, Wild Culture owners Rachelle Schmidt and Tim Roed will operate a low-key taproom, lounge and mini-brewery, set to open Oct. 1. They plan to serve craft beer, wine, coffee and small foods alongside their kombucha, and encourage visitors to bring in food from other downtown restaurants.
“It’s been our dream and our goal to open our own taproom where people can come drink kombucha socially,” Roed said. “We’re trying to make it a mix between a coffee shop and a grown-up bar: just a chill place to hang out.”
Kombucha is a beverage made from fermented tea and probiotic cultures, often flavored with fruit juice. Roed said the process and equipment needed to produce kombucha is essentially a combination between beer-brewing and wine-making.
Wild Culture’s kombucha is full-strength — meaning it’s brewed naturally and without dilution or filtration — resulting in an alcohol content of 1 percent ABV. (This is about one-quarter of what you’d find in an average light beer, but you still must be 21 or older to purchase it. Roed and Schmidt also had to get their brewer’s license in order to sell it.)
The owners say their small-batch brews have more probiotics and nutrients than the bigger brands you might find in supermarket coolers. They also utilize local produce from Iowa growers such as Grinnell Heritage Farm, Noble Bee Honey, Wilson’s Orchard and Gaia’s Peace Garden. Roed and Schmidt are known to pick through the gardens of friends and family as well.
Wild Culture’s staple brews are Grapefruit Carrot Ginger, Pineapple Kiwi Coconut, Beet Orange Lime and Honey Lavender Chamomile, sold year-round. They also present “experimental” brews each week at the Iowa City Farmers Market, which have included plums, concord grapes, several apple varieties and pawpaws. Wild Culture operates a brewery on the outskirts of Iowa City near Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon, but plan to brew and test their smaller, experimental batches at the new taproom. They brew their four core flavors in batches of about 40 gallons, and their experimental brews in five gallons or less.
Wild Culture kombuchas are sold at nearly 40 locations in 12 Iowa cities, from Hy-Vee stores to breweries. Now that Schmidt and Roed have their own brick-and-mortar business, these partnerships will become more mutual — the taproom will carry beers from Big Grove, Peace Tree, Alluvial, Five Cities, Iowa Brewing Company and other brewers at their taproom, giving patrons an alternative to kombucha the way kombucha, at many breweries, is an alternative to beer.
“We’re trying to offer a little something for everybody,” Roed said.
They also plan to serve cold brew coffee and wine on tap, and sell small-plate foods such as chips and salsa, pastries, cheese curds and beef sticks, all from local vendors, and yet to be confirmed. Patrons hungry for more than a snack are encouraged to BYOF by visiting nearby restaurants Hamburg Inn, Oasis Falafel, Goosetown Cafe, High Ground Cafe, Pagliai’s Pizza, El Banditos, Bluebird Diner, Devotay and Brix. As for the space itself, the owners hope to brighten it up with whites, earth-tones and plants.
Wild Culture will live next door to another newcomer to the north side. Up In Smoke, a Cedar Falls tobacco store owned by Omer Noorwala, launched a second location at 208 N Linn St with a soft opening Thursday, Aug. 16. The former Taste of China space was purchased by Tracy and Cassie Barkalow, owners of Sonny’s Northside Tap, in May 2017 shortly after Taste of China closed. It has served as an expansion of Sonny’s, sharing its patio, but the Barkalows were unable to fulfill their goal of connecting the two due to an Iowa City ordinance restricting liquor licenses to spaces of 500 square feet or smaller.
In an email to Little Village, Tracy Barkalow confirmed it was this rule that prompted he and Cassie to retire Sonny’s and offer the spaces to Wild Culture Kombucha and Up in Smoke.
“These two will be great additions to the Northside Neighborhood,” he said.